A week ago today our youth group loaded up and headed to Scranton, Pennsylvania not really knowing what lay ahead. Today we are on the road home. A lot has happened in the week between our road trips. We have worshiped. We have worked. We have laughed, cried, and experienced many emotions in between. We have met new friends and we have deepened relationships with the people we came with. We have seen the face of God in our co-workers and in the people in whose homes we worked.
On Friday we finished up the work on our projects. For my work crew it was a time of touching up work that we missed and saying goodbye to our host couple, Rose and Jim. For me our conversation evolved into something deeper. As the week had progressed I had learned the they had a grandson who had recently died by suicide. For the first half of the week Jim was in the hospital so we really hadn’t had the opportunity to talk much. On Friday, with our work completed and a little more relaxed time on our hands, I found myself sitting in Rose and Jim’s kitchen talking about Jim’s surgery, work, and their grandson.
One of the sad realities of having two children die is that I am often put in a position to reach out to other bereaved parents and grandparents. On this day I was able to share with this recently bereaved couple as they were trying to make sense of their loss and as they were trying to find some way of coping and moving forward. They are very fresh in their grief so healing is still a little way off. I was, however, able to affirm with them the intensity of their loss and how inadequate our understanding of these situations can be. More importantly, I was able to help them know that I cared and also that God was still with them in this tragic time.
So, I spent a week painting their deck and porch. I helped hang some handrails and a safety light. We washed and cleaned a little around their house. But it is, perhaps, this conversation and the prayer that followed that may be the most important work that I did this week. The human connection that makes sense of all the brush strokes and driving screws.
When I think of this week, I probably won’t think of the work on their house. It is possible the work on rebuilding their home life I was able to help with as I sat with them in their grief was more significant. This soul building may be the most important memory I will have of the week.
Yesterday our theme in worship and the small group lessons centered around relationships and how important they are to our life of faith. Today, at our work site, God seemed to be bringing that message home.
For the past few days my crew has been struggling a little bit to complete our assigned tasks: painting a deck, painting some wrought iron porch railings, hanging a safety light, and hanging a stairway handrail. Part of our difficulty involved having the wrong supplies. It took us more than a day to get the correct color of stain and it wasn’t until this morning that we finally had the railing, stain, and hardware all in place so we could move forward on what seemed like a simple project. Our group was a little discouraged about the slow progress we were making.
That all changed today when we not only got all of our materials straightened out but also discovered that we were being assigned another crew to work with us. This crew had completed their tasks and were reassigned to our project. It was just the lift we needed. With the additional six workers and, maybe more importantly, with the renewed enthusiasm they bought, we were able to complete all our tasks before the end of the work day.
Projects like this are good reminders of the importance of welcoming help. We could probably have persevered and finished everything by Friday afternoon but the synergy of the two groups working together not only made us more productive it also gave us a renewed energy. We are looking forward to our final day actually exceeding our expectations of the past couple of days.
It was just a reminder – God wants us to work in partnership with one another. Sometimes that means we are the helper and sometimes it means we are the helped. We give thanks for our work partners today and pray we are able to lighten someone else’s load in the future!
So, a confession right off the bat – I had expected to publish this blog daily during work camp but we have been so busy and I have been so tired that I haven’t made good on that commitment. The program for work camp starts with breakfast at 7:00 AM and ends with team devotions finishing around 10:00 PM. In between there are large group teaching and worship times, work, and some early evening free time.
As the week has begun the emphasis has moved from the group you came with (St. Mark’s Cornerstone Youth) to your crew which consists of five our six people you work with and spend time with during worship and devotions. My crew is pictured with this blog and includes people from Connecticut and Maryland. I am the lone Midwesterner.
Our work has primarily involved painting at the home of a woman named Rosemary. Rosemary’s husband is in the hospital and she has some physical limitations. Besides the painting we are also installing a safety light by the front door and some rails on stairs to help make life safer for Rosemary and her husband. We have enjoyed getting to know her and she has been very appreciative of the work that we are doing.
During the week our crew becomes vital to the camp experience. It is interesting to see how divergent group shares a common belief in Jesus Christ while often having very different approaches to life and the work we are doing. This morning in our teaching and worship time we were challenged to memorize John 13:35. (“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”) The challenge is then to live out that verse as we spend our day together serving Jesus and our neighbor, especially the resident of the house we are working on.
While we are far from perfect, both in our home repairs and our loving actions toward one another, we know that we continue to strive to do our best and God blesses our efforts.
On Sunday we arrived at our work camp site and began to get organized for the week ahead. There are around four hundred participants in this camp including a group from one church that includes around 120 people! St. Mark’s is well represented in the leadership of the week. Don Broad, our Director of Student Ministries, is one of the main presenters, Abby Macomber is leading worship, and we have a number of other St. Marker’s in leadership roles.
This week we will not only be getting to know each other better but we will also be introduced to a significant group of people from other churches in other states. We also will be working for and with residents in Scranton as we serve and learn.
Sunday was also a day filled with worship. Even though some of the activities were organizational in nature and sometimes playful, God’s Spirit was evident in all that we were doing. We ended the day with a devotional time with just our group which was moving and inspirational. It will be a joy to see how God works this week!
This morning I slept in church. That is to say that I slept in a church last night and woke up this morning sleeping in Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown, Ohio. I am traveling with our high school students and adult leaders to participate in a mission camp in Scranton, Pennsylvania this week. We left Carmel yesterday and we will arrive at the place we will call home for the week early this afternoon.
I woke up before dawn this morning as I often do. I moved downstairs and sat in the sanctuary in the complete darkness. It was amazing to watch the dawn from this vantage point as the light began to make the stained glass windows in the beautiful 1930s sanctuary come alive.
In many ways this was a metaphor for what we hope happens this week in the lives of not only the campers but also the adults who work and share this adventure. It is our prayer that the light of Jesus shines through and people’s lives are changed. I look forward to sharing this week. I look forward to getting some useful work done that will help people have a better life. But most importantly, I pray that the light of Jesus will shine in and through our team as we try to be agents of God’s love and grace.
A few weeks ago I had my hearing checked because I had noticed a difference in how things sounded when I listened with my right ear versus how they sounded when I listened with my left ear. To be more precise, when I had a phone to my right ear I could not hear the lower overtones as well as I could with my left ear. As a musician, I really worried about having my hearing compromised, which would be a huge loss.
As it turned out my hearing is within normal range except that I have one frequency in the lower register that I can no longer hear with my right ear. The technician that gave me the test said that it is not unusual for people to have this kind of selective hearing loss but that it was a little unusual that someone would notice such a specific loss. She said that musicians were more likely to notice this kind of loss than people who were not trained musicians.
When you are a college music major one of the things that are a part of your curriculum is “ear training.” This is a combination of musical dictation, sight singing, and listening to musical excerpts, that helps you learn how to listen and what to listen for. It is this intentional program of learning how to listen that helps musicians hear what they need to when they are performing so that they can make the many minute adjustments that contribute to an artful performance.
In a lot of ways, the life of faith has a lot in common with ear training. Jesus once said that some “people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears.” (Matthew 13:15, NRSV) It was his way of describing a certain kind of hardness of heart in which people ignored the people around them who were in need. Contrariwise, he also commended others who had been trained to see with compassion by saying, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”
Here’s the deal: we can train ourselves to see and hear the injustices around us or we can train ourselves to ignore them. The saddest thing is not that we notice injustice and choose to ignore it (although that would be sad) but that our senses have become dulled to its presence.
Okay, I’ll admit that New Year’s Day has always been one of my least favorite holidays. It generally involves drinking and crowds, two things about which I am not an enthusiast. I have often spent New Year’s Eve at home with family celebrating in the least exciting way possible – often sleeping through the changing of the year from one to another. In many ways, New Year’s is a contrived holiday, since the only reason one year changes to the next at that moment is because we say so. The calender, while it is informed by our earth’s journey around the sun, is in many ways a figment of our imagination.
I do think, however, that the New Year’s celebration, in the way we understand it, is a pregnant moment. It can be a time to reflect on the previous year and give thanks. It can be a time to take inventory of the things for which we are grateful and to whisper our gratitude to the divine origin of our bounty. In a world where time often whisks by without any significant reflection it is an opportunity to live into the eternal now by reflecting on where we have been and where we are heading.
Like many people, I have also had years to which I was more than happy to say goodbye. These are the years that mark serious losses or setbacks. While not wanting to wish away time it is nice to mark the finality of a season of despair and commit ourselves to a new season of hope and expectation. Without the marking of the years there are no benchmarks for our expectations and we could drift endlessly through periods of grief without a passage into a new era.
The Bible talks about time in two ways. Chronos is the passage of time in the common sense of the word. Kairos is time in the sense of a moment of opportunity (often divine intervention). It is the word that is used to say it is time to act. Recognizing the changing of one year to another in the passage of time (chronos) calls us to recognize this as a moment of opportunity (kairos) to open ourselves to transformation and growth.
And so, while New Year’s Day may be one of the most secular of holidays for many people, it is also an opportunity to reflect and recommit. There are many jokes made about the commitments that are made on New Year’s that drop by the wayside soon after. But I also know of many people who have used this time of the year for serious evaluation of their values and commitments and who have made substantial alterations in their approach to life and loves. Maybe this is can be an opportunity to live into the divine promise which states, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)